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Introduction to the Neurosciences

Course 2018-2019


Monday 12 November – Friday 7 December 2018.

Admission requirements

Basic cytology and molecular biology.


This course will be your introduction into the neurosciences, an ever expanding and exciting field of knowledge and research that encompasses virtually all scientific disciplines, from mathematic set theory through molecular biology to computerized image analysis. The nervous system is being studied in species at all levels of the animal kingdom, and in these species at the molecular, cellular and systems levels. Notwithstanding the vast effort that we put into understanding the nervous system at present even the simplest ones remain enigmatic.
During this course, attention will be paid to both the structure and the function of the nervous system. Study of the structure of the nervous system will familiarize you with the anatomy of the human central nervous system, both at the macroscopic and at the microscopic levels. Through study of the function you will become familiar with the electrophysiology of the neuron, and with the interaction between sensors, neurons and effectors (which is, in fact, “behaviour”). The relation between structure and function will be emphasized by excursions into the pathology of the nervous system; this will demonstrate how structural disturbances influence our interaction with the environment (yet another euphemism for “behaviour”).
The course is subdivided into five themes. The first theme “Neuroanatomy”, and the second theme “Neurophysiology” obviously deal with the basics. What does the brain look like to the naked eye, through a looking glass and through a microscope? Which components can be discerned and what are their names? Which cell types are present and how are these arranged? Which membrane characteristics make the neuron so special, and what are the consequent electrophysiological properties of the neuron, and its extensions? How does the neuron interact with other cells?
The third theme “Systematic and neuroanatomy” is concerned with the motor control and sensory systems of the nervous system and their effect on our behaviour and sense of well-being. We will discuss motor control, the special sensory systems (somatosensibility, vision, hearing and equilibrium), the limbic system, and some aspects of memory.
These special sensory systems will also be discussed from a physiological point of view in the fourth theme “Systematic Neurophysiology”. The mainstay of the fourth theme is the physiological practical that will address both the special senses as the motor control systems in a series of practical physiological exercises.
As the previous four themes are all rather reductionistic in their point of view there will be atttention to the more ephemeral aspects of the nervous system as well in the fifth theme “Neurophilosophy”. Various theories on the “mind/body” and “mind/brain” problem will be introduced and discussed, and you will be invited to take a stand in this issue based on these theories. This theme constitutes part of the line course BAST, and is intended to connect the present course to the later courses “Hormones and the nervous system” and “Reflection on Science”. The lecture on the Allen Brain atlas and the accompanying assignment and seminar will introduce you the use of big data in relation to neuroscience. This topic too will be further explored in the course “Hormones and the nervous system”.

Intermingled with these themes there will be a few lectures by LUMC researchers who will introduce the various flavours of neuroscience research performed at the Leiden University Medical Centre. The subjects of these lectures were selected to match (as far as possible) the thematic topics. These lectures constitute an integral part of the course, as they address neuroscience subjects, but also constitute part of the line course BAST (Biomedical Academic Scientific Training), as they will train you to interact, in a symposium-like setting, with researchers active in the field.

Course objectives

  • Understand the central role of the nervous system in coordinating the interaction between the body it inhabits and the environment.
  • Know the anatomy of the central nervous system at both macroscopic and microscopic levels, and to some extent the anatomy of the peripheral nervous system.
  • Know about the properties specific to the neuronal cell membrane, and about the function of these properties in the interaction of the neuron with other neurons, and with sensor and effector organs.
  • Understand how sensorimotor integration is effected by the nervous system, and to be able to understand how disturbances of this system will affect its function.
  • Understand how the special senses transduce energy from the environment into “nervous energy”, and to understand some of the processing necessary for the perception of special sensory information.
  • Differentiate between sense and nonsense regarding popular notions on brain function
  • Explain the most prevalent theories regarding the “Mind/Brain” problem.
  • To gain introductory experience with “big data”.
  • Understand basic principles concerning neuroscience research
  • Able to formulate an pose relevant questions following a research lecture

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures
  • Interactive lectures
  • Seminars
  • Dissection practical
  • Physiology practical
  • Self study assignments

Assessment method

Written exam, 30 open-end questions, closed book (80%).
Scientific report regarding physiology practical (10%).
Presentation regarding Mind/Body problem (10%).
Presentation Popular Neuroscience (supplementary demand).

Exam dates

The exam dates can be found on the schedule website.

Reading list

  • Bear, M.F., Connors, B.W., Paradiso, M.A.; Neuroscience, Exploring the Brain. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins
  • Boron & Boulpaep; Medical Physiology;, Elsevier Saunders

Information for exchange students

This module is part of an English taught third semester of the bachelor’s programme in Biomedical Sciences at Leiden University Medical Center. Combining biomedical modules with modules from other programmes in Leiden is difficult or impossible due to different scheduling schemes. Exchange students with sufficient relevant background knowledge in biology/biomedicine are therefore encouraged and advised to choose the entire module package indicated (by an *) below.

Immunology (BW), 9 EC*
Infectious Agents And Immunity, 6 EC*
Introduction to the Neurosciences 6, EC*
Design and analysis of Biomedical Studies, 6 EC*

Line education
Communication in Science for Exchange students, 2 EC*

Additional options:
Biomedical Academic Scientific Training for Exchange Students, 2 EC
Applied Electrophysiology for Exchange students, 2 EC

A minimum number of applicants is required for continuation of the optional components.